Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

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Overall Rating: 96%

Relatable Characters?

Yes!

Epic?

Yes!

Funny?

Hilarious.

Moving?

At times~

Sad?

Maybe a little.

“‘One must always be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us,’” says the protagonist of Cassandra Clare’s steampunk fantasy novel Clockwork Angel (Clockwork 71). Set in 1878, the novel follows sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray as she is thrust into Victorian London’s supernatural Downworld—kidnapped by the Dark Sisters while travelling to London to live with her brother Nate. The Sisters torture Tessa in the name of preparing her for their master, the Magister. Threatening to harm her brother, the Sisters force Tessa to train her ability to Change: a power Tessa didn’t know she had that allows her to shapeshift into and touch the thoughts of any person whose possession she holds. Saved from the Dark Sisters by a group of demon-slaying warriors called Shadowhunters, Tessa agrees to assist the Shadowhunters with their investigation of the Pandemonium Club in return for their help finding her missing brother.

Clockwork Angel features a skillful balance of action, romance, humor, and insight that will likely capture the attention of any teenage reader looking for a compelling, thoughtful read. Although readers may take a couple of chapters to become accustomed to the fantastical world Clare has created, the world-building in Clockwork Angel is smoothly integrated into the narrative so that there are no major info dumps; the reader naturally learns about the Shadow World along with the protagonist.

When I first read Clockwork Angel in middle school, the novel’s witty dialogue, heart-wrenching scenes, and unexpected plot twists kept me turning pages. Rereading the novel for the second time since then was like returning to old friends. Clockwork Angel remains one of my favorite novels because the characters express sentiments that really resonate with me— serving as great mirrors in which I can see myself. Sharing my belief in the power of stories, Will, one of the Shadowhunters who saves Tessa from the Dark Sisters, notes how books can help readers become better equipped to face reality (Clockwork 164). I really appreciated seeing my love of reading reflected through both Will and Tessa especially because their fondness for books is so integral to their individual characters and relationship with each other.

Exploring important topics like identity, family, discrimination, and intolerance, Clockwork Angel is a strong start to The Infernal Devices trilogy—a series that gets progressively better with each book.

By Celina Sun

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Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Overall Rating: 90%

Relatable Characters?

Meh.

Cute?

Yes!

Funny?

Sometimes!

Moving?

Could be?

Sad?

A little

Lemon trees from one’s dream materialize overnight in one’s room. Cuckoo clocks house talking cuckoo birds that fall asleep and forget the time. Croquet is played with flamingos as mallets and hedgehogs as balls. The world of Marissa Meyer’s Heartless is full of fantastic, impossible things. Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Heartless tells the backstory of the Queen of Hearts, featuring Meyer’s take on why the character becomes the “blind and aimless Fury” that Carroll portrays (Meyer 4).

rehost2016913a5c7dcc9-6afd-4a16-b6eb-3b98632b12c7Heartless follows Catherine Pinkerton whose passion for baking sustains her dream of opening a bakery with her best friend and maid Mary Ann. In the Kingdom of Hearts, however, women have no place in the world of business because societal rules and norms are modeled after Victorian England’s, and baking is not considered a suitable job for Cath, the daughter of the Marquess of Rock Turtle Cove. Cath nonetheless endeavors to realize her dream, all-the-while grappling with her parent’s wishes for her to marry the King of Hearts and become queen.

Exploring the impact societal norms and parental expectations can have on one’s life, Heartless also illustrates issues of privilege and class divide and raises questions about what actions are just, what love justifies, and if some events are not certain individuals’ faults but fate’s.

Heartless’ rich world-building and colorful cast of characters make for a very immersive read that both those familiar and unfamiliar with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will enjoy. In addition to reimagining staples like the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter, Meyer incorporates elements of other works like Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” into Heartless and introduces original characters like the charming, funny, considerably swoon-worthy new court joker of Hearts, Jest.

However, not everyone may appreciate the substantial role romance plays in the novel, and I personally found it hard to like Cath. I didn’t always agree with how she handled situations, and her behavior and inner monologue, while authentic given the societal context, was off-putting at times—reflecting classist notions.

Nevertheless, my entrancement with the novel’s world and desire to learn what causes Cath’s transformation from aspiring bakery owner to heartless queen compensated for the few issues I had with Cath’s character and certain plot points in the story. Overall, I found Heartless to be a worthwhile read.

By Celina Sun

Meyer, Marissa. Heartless. EPUB ed., Pan Macmillan, 2016.

 

 

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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Overall Rating: 95%

Relatable? YES.
Cute? Yes!
Funny? Definitely has its moments.
Moving? I cried multiple times.
Sad? A little.

“There’s a Japanese phrase that I like: koi no yokan. It doesn’t mean love at first sight. It’s closer to love at second sight. It’s the feeling when you meet someone that you’re going to fall in love with them. Maybe you don’t love them right away, but it’s inevitable that you will. I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m experiencing right now” (Yoon 79).

Nicola Yoon’s The Sun Is Also a Star is fairly conscious of the fact that it follows an “instalove”-esque narrative, but the novel’s self-awareness makes the story a much more unique read. Exploring topics like love, destiny, immigration, and family, the novel follows protagonists Daniel and Natasha as their paths cross on an especially fateful day.

The child of Korean immigrants, Daniel is on his way to a college admission interview with a Yale alumnus when he meets Natasha, an undocumented immigrant who’s headed to meet a lawyer who may be able to stop her deportation to Jamaica. The two find themselves in each other’s company in the interim before their respective appointments, and upon discovering that Natasha places more faith in facts and science than in love or fate, Daniel sets out to prove to her that he can get her to fall in love with him scientifically in what time they have together.

Because the protagonists are aware that they’re essentially testing the idea of “instalove,” the novel refreshingly explores whether or not it’s actually possible for two people to fall in love so fast without becoming too unrealistic. The novel challenges readers to consider the difference between fate and coincidence as well as the possibility that some loves may indeed be “inevitable.”

Both Natasha and Daniel are extremely charming, well-written characters with quirks that make their respective POV (point-of-view) chapters really distinctive and enjoyable to read.

More literary-minded, Daniel often reflects on his life by creating headlines— “Area Boy Attempts to Use Science to Get the Girl” (Yoon 84), begins one of his chapters, while Natasha’s chapters often include “observable facts” indicative of her own more practical personality.

Making the story even more unique are the brief histories of minor characters and explanations of concepts like “half-life” and “multiverse” that are interspersed throughout the novel. These seeming digressions really enriched the narrative and helped illustrate, among other things, the point that even seemingly minor characters have their own stories that once revealed make them just as real as the protagonists.

Although The Sun Is Also a Star explores concepts of love and fate, the novel doesn’t shy away from discussing heavier topics like internalized racism—including much commentary on issues surrounding immigration and deportation. Particularly memorable was Natasha’s observation that “If people who were actually born here had to prove they were worthy enough to live in America, this would be a much less populated country” (Yoon 110).

Furthermore, while I cannot speak for others, as the child of immigrants, I found that the novel’s portrayal of immigrants’ experiences and attitudes was extremely authentic and relatable. Many of the sentiments expressed really rang true to me, reflecting opinions that I’ve encountered in real life. It’s clear that the author did a lot of research so that she could accurately depict such a realistic portrayal.

I highly recommend Nicola Yoon’s The Sun Is Also a Star. Because the novel does explore notions of love and fate, those who cannot suspend their disbelief about such ideas may find the story more difficult to enjoy, but I think the story’s balanced consideration of light and heavy topics, charming characters, and unique narrative structure will appeal to everyone.

By: Celina Sun

Yoon, Nicola. The Sun Is Also a Star. EPUB ed., Random House Children’s Books, 2016.